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Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Aug 15;44(16):6024-35. doi: 10.1021/es100779n.

Sampling for pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and illicit drugs in wastewater systems: are your conclusions valid? A critical review.

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  • 1The University of Queensland, Advanced Water Management Centre, QLD 4072, Australia.


The analysis of 87 peer-reviewed journal articles reveals that sampling for pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and illicit drugs in sewers and sewage treatment plant influents is mostly carried out according to existing tradition or standard laboratory protocols. Less than 5% of all studies explicitly consider internationally acknowledged guidelines or methods for the experimental design of monitoring campaigns. In the absence of a proper analysis of the system under investigation, the importance of short-term pollutant variations was typically not addressed. Therefore, due to relatively long sampling intervals, potentially inadequate sampling modes, or insufficient documentation, it remains unclear for the majority of reviewed studies whether observed variations can be attributed to "real" variations or if they simply reflect sampling artifacts. Based on results from previous and current work, the present paper demonstrates that sampling errors can lead to overinterpretation of measured data and ultimately, wrong conclusions. Depending on catchment size, sewer type, sampling setup, substance of interest, and accuracy of analytical method, avoidable sampling artifacts can range from "not significant" to "100% or more" for different compounds even within the same study. However, in most situations sampling errors can be reduced greatly, and sampling biases can be eliminated completely, by choosing an appropriate sampling mode and frequency. This is crucial, because proper sampling will help to maximize the value of measured data for the experimental assessment of the fate of PPCPs as well as for the formulation and validation of mathematical models. The trend from reporting presence or absence of a compound in "clean" water samples toward the quantification of PPCPs in raw wastewater requires not only sophisticated analytical methods but also adapted sampling methods. With increasing accuracy of chemical analyses, inappropriate sampling increasingly represents the major source of inaccuracy. A condensed step-by-step Sampling Guide is proposed as a starting point for future studies.

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